London Leaders Day 1
- Created on Monday, 21 May 2012
After a cold morning a group of around 30 Christians and Muslims from London met in the sunny Kent countryside at a Catholic retreat centre for two days of conversation, challenge and collaboration.
After a warm welcome from Sister Sheila we launched into a Christian-Muslim conversation between Fr Nadim Nassar and Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi.
Out of their deep friendship they were able to show how Christian and Muslim outlooks can complement each other. Fr Nadim explained how good leaders can help us to navigate the distinction between faith and culture, particularly in the UK with its mix of faiths and cultures. He also held up leaders as people having a deep relationships with God and able to draw us into deep relationship with each other and between religions. Commenting on the similarities between Christianity and Islam Sayed Ali emphasised that 90% of the ethics of the two faiths is shared. The important thing about the faith communities is that they have faith and that faith, through the example of religious leaders, should offer a social service to people coming from a selfless perspective.
From the encouraging to the challenging, Fr Nadim invited us to explore three challenges to better inter faith relations:
- Ignorance – not knowing each other
- Cultural challenges
- The difference between words and deeds – when inter faith does not live up to its talk
Good leadership can navigate us through these challenges also, leaders should understand both scripture and culture to enable integration. This involves facing up to internal (intra faith) and external (inter faith) issues, breaking stereotypes, being accountable as leaders and drawing people together. Sayed Ali concluded by identifying educating ourselves about our own faith and the faith of others as the way to dismantle stereotypes.
The Q&A session covered how to deepen our own faith in the presence of others – exploring how our own faith fits in a multi faith society can make us more comfortable in sharing our own distinctive beliefs, rather than being threatened by difference. Also, how in learning about our other faiths we are encouraged to learn more about our own.
After our opening session we provided dialogue training using the St Ethelburga’s ‘Conversations for the Soul’ (C4S) toolkit. C4S offers a model of friendly dialogue in pairs using a set of useful questions on Religious Identity, Faith and Food, Gender and others. After developing our own ground rules and etiquette we began to dialogue in pairs and threes, in the safety of being able to ask ‘what do you believe about …?’, ‘how do feasting and fasting feature in your faith?’, ‘what does your religion say about modesty?’ Surprisingly these kinds of questions are often not asked in inter faith gatherings or in day to day life because we are often unsure or too embarrassed to ask. We shared our experiences with each other and thought that the toolkit would be extremely useful for helping to open up dialogue with young people.
We rounded off our evening with a screening of ‘The Imam and the Pastor’ (a firm favourite at the Christian Muslim Forum). The film tells the story of the two central characters, a Sunni imam and a Pentecostal Pastor, repenting of their involvement in Nigerian militias, learning the way of peace at the heart of both religions, beginning to forgive and then building an inter faith reconciliation ministry. The film shows a few occasions where they bring divided communities together for conflict resolution in Kaduna and Plateau States with different parties reading out letters of forgiveness and celebrating together. The film is very moving and shows very clearly the touching friendship between the two men, and their wives, as they have journeyed from being enemies to joint ambassadors for peace. Our final feedback session reflected on how those of us taking part didn’t need the powerful persuasion of the film to convince us of the importance of inter faith reconciliation and openness to the other. This challenged us to think of those in our communities still in a place of fear and hostility. We were also struck by one of the speakers in the film who acknowledged that sometimes religious leaders talk more about violence than peace and how this is related to the desire to ‘protect’ our own community. A misplaced concern to ‘protect’ can divide us from those who are different and create the situation we want to avoid.
We begin tomorrow with the antidote, how our scriptures encourage us to create friendships with the ‘other’.
Director, Christian Muslim Forum
@ Emmaus Retreat Centre
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